Introducing 3S – Smart & Safe Solutions for laser systems and applications New application area of the HiLASE Centre

The main fields of the 3S (Smart & Safe Solutions) area include real-time control, which focuses on robust automation, machine vision, the development of robust sensors, and robust electronics in general. Artificial intelligence elements such as autonomous laser alignment and micromachining process optimization. Automatic active alignment and stabilization of the laser beam. Furthermore, laser safety, both testing of materials and safety features (such as safety goggles), but also laser training, development of class 1 lasers, risk assessment, and the actual development of safety features such as laser shutters. Furthermore, the focus is on the reliability of optical components, damage prediction, and, last but not least, the management of the laser processing technology in order to adapt more quickly to new parts and shapes with sufficient precision and repeatability. Simply put, 3S focuses on implementing technologies and procedures with a focus on ensuring worker and equipment safety in parallel with maximizing the efficiency of laser systems, required equipment, and other technologies, increasing productivity and reducing economic demands.

The main guarantor of this area is Ing. Jakub Horáček, Head of the ETS Department and Senior Control Systems Engineer. We asked Jakub for an interview in which he will introduce 3S.

How did 3S come to be?
The 3S idea is based on the fact that the laser or laser application is not just the technology and the final output parameters. But that the user experience with that technology is very important. And that depends on simple and user-friendly operation, reliability, maintenance-free operation, environmental friendliness, and, last but not least, safety.

Topics in this area have emerged from various HiLASE teams and different areas of expertise. The 3Ss are, for example, dealing with real-time control, artificial intelligence elements, laser safety, direction for active laser beam alignment, reliability of optical components and their damage prediction, and even the automation of the laser machining process.

What is the goal of 3S?
The 3S application area aims to increase the efficiency of laser work and improve the use of lasers for applications. The goal is to develop robust control, robust sensing, testing of new materials, and material robustness for harsh environments. Such a system is then sustainable and more environmentally friendly.

To what extent do the 3S influence the other strategic areas and pillars of the HiLASE Centre?
It could be said that they intersect with all the other directions and pillars that HiLASE wants to address in the next decade. Whether it is lasers for industry or for use in space, such a system needs to be reliable and maintenance-free. And for the scientist themselves, automation can simplify their work and allow them to focus on what is really important.

How are laser control systems related to the field?
We’ve been building an industrial version of our lasers with an industrial control system for some time now, and 3S is a natural progression of where to go from here. During the development process, we have come across many components that are not available on the market in sufficient quality or at all. We are and will be looking for partners with whom we can develop such components.

What types of collaboration are we looking for within the 3S?
We aren’t building castles in the sky, HiLASE has been and always will be, I hope, developing lasers for the real world. In this area, we can collaborate, for example, on robust automation itself, the development of robust electronics, that’s a big topic right now – electronics for space or usable for harsh environments. Furthermore, it can be the development of sensors and drivers, for example, for precise micro-positioning.

What exactly is smart laser processing using high-tech lasers?
In short, a simpler and faster way to perform the experiment. The laser switches itself on, the parameters are automatically checked. The robot itself takes the sample from the tray, checks the correct placement, and starts the correct process according to the type of sample. During the process, the system then performs diagnostics of the laser and the machining itself. If it assesses that the machining did not go well, it will make a record or ideally make a correction itself. It may sound like science fiction, but it’s one example of how to simplify the process through automation and allow the user to focus on the results of their work.

What impact will the 3S have on industry, society, and the laser industry itself?
When laser operation is safe, maintenance-free, and reliable, it allows you to focus on the application itself and increases productivity, for example. In laser machining, an automated process allows us to focus on the results rather than the process itself. So it’s definitely a streamlining of the work and a better use for the real application. I would probably compare it to the fact that when you want to work on a computer, you also don’t care what software is running in the background, how the operating system works, how the processor communicates with the peripherals, and how the processor works with the registers. You want to write an email or print a document.

How does the connection between the laser equipment and the production line actually work?
Communication between the process station and the laser itself is relatively simple. Only a few signals need to be exchanged between the devices. Thus, in addition to the basic on/off switching of the laser, the station can adjust the power and wavelength. It is necessary to pass on safety information so that the laser does not endanger the working persons. The laser then works on the PoD (pulse on demand) principle. This means that the process station can select individual laser pulses so that if the user is not comfortable with the full laser frequency, they can reduce and adjust it as required.

Can you explain the concept of a digital twin? Can a laser even have a digital twin? Will we have a virtual laser too? How does it work?
A digital twin is a virtual model of a production facility or process that allows you to simulate functions and debug them before they are actually put into operation. So we’re not just talking about a virtual reality where we can virtually walk through our laser. As far as our own digital twin laser is concerned, let me say this: never say never. But I personally don’t see the need and the benefit right now.

How will the use of AI transform the industry and human labor?
I wouldn’t say that people will lose their jobs, rather they will start working in other directions. In fact, it’s already happening gradually. A lot of professions are retraining. Someone who used to work at a machine is retraining to operate or program the machine. I don’t think we won’t be here, but we will be working in other areas.

Where is 3S headed?
In all 3S topics, we want to do something that either no one has ever done, or that is not available on the market, or that is available but not in the areas of lasers and laser technology.

The 3Ss contribute to the identification and development of new technologies and applications that can then target new areas of industry, thus also developing and advancing laser technology as such. In the future, we can expect to see greater involvement of automation, the incorporation of AI elements, and the use of much more robust control systems to help laser systems work more efficiently. Sensors will also evolve to better detect and monitor laser outputs. The focus will be on optimizing processes and improving laser safety, including the use of in-house developed safety features such as our ShutterLase. Furthermore, it will be the development and use of new materials with higher durability, even for harsher environments, which will help to develop reliable laser systems with longer lifetimes and lower negative environmental impact.

Thus, the dynamically growing trend of 3S development will definitely have an impact on the development and innovation of laser technologies, while laser safety, increased efficiency and sustainability (whether infrastructural or financial) remain key.

This interview with Jakub Horáček, 3S area guarantor, was conducted by Marie Thunová, Head of Marketing & PR.